By Michael Rich
One of the great catch-22’s in athletics is that confidence breeds success and success breeds confidence.
For the Big Walnut baseball team, success came with a state final four appearance last season … a trip that has this year’s Golden Eagles squad feeling confident.
“We’ve got a lot of confidence,” BW coach Chris Holly said. “They’ve got a lot of confidence in their playing ability, but not to the point where they’re cocky about it.”
“(The final four) was something special, for sure,” center fielder Nick Moser said. “None of us had been in that situation before, so it was kind of nice to have that opportunity to be there.”
Eleven players return from last year’s squad, including Austin Becker, Tommy Fleser and Henry von Hollen — the team’s workhorses on the mound. Each are over 6-foot-5.
“We’ve got a pretty big pitching staff and they’re pretty imposing figures,” Holly said. “Becker can run it up to 89 (miles per hour), Tommy’s around 87 and Henry is mid-80’s, so we got velocity. They’re going to be looked upon to throw big games for us this year.”
Becker, a Vanderbilt commit, went 10-0 as a starting pitcher for BW last season and Fleser, who will play football and baseball at Ohio Northern next year, tossed a no-hitter against Johnstown last year.
Moser swiped 51 bags last season and highlights a senior class of six with Fleser, Nick Green (catcher), Jakob Evans (left field) as well as Andrew Klamfoth and Jacob Young.
“We’ve got a lot of potential and we got a lot of sticks that can hit the ball,” Green said. “Our defense is going to help win a lot of games as well.”
Green is committed to Tiffin, Moser is committed to Mount Vernon Nazarene, Klamfoth is committed to Ohio Christian College and Evans is committed to Ohio Dominican.
Holly said that sophomores Noah Sprowls (middle infielder and relief pitcher) and Colton Lee (second base) will also contribute.
The task is a little taller for BW this season with the move up to Division I.
“I think our whole team is packed with potential,” Moser said. “I think we can definitely make a good run in D-I as well.”
Past success is something all three Olentangy programs can relate to.
Liberty has won back-to-back district titles and was regional runner-up in both seasons. But this year’s Patriots team will have a different look.
“We have a lot of new faces this year, but we hope to learn as fast as possible and get better every day,” Liberty coach Ty Brenning said. “But we’re going to be a veteran group in a lot of key positions.”
Spencer Yankle returns behind the plate and is off to Oakland when he graduates.
Mason Groves is Liberty’s new ace with a fastball that runs from 88-91 miles per hour. Junior Chase Gresock (shortstop) and senior Jordan Seich (right field) return as well.
Senior Corbin Rapier (second base), juniors Connor Stewart and Ryan Hoffman, who will split time at first, and sophomore Corey Mayer (third base) round out the infield.
Freshmen Mitchell Okuley (center field), Hunter Voorhees (junior) and Mitch Milheim (sophomore), who will each see time on the mound, and Jake Miller (left field) will all see time in the outfield.
Olentangy is coming off an OCC-Capital championship last season and has made the district semifinal round in each of the past six years with one district title (2012).
“We hope that the momentum of the last couple of years has gotten us to the point where we’re ready to take it to the next level,” Olentangy coach Ryan Lucas said. “We have a great tradition and our kids play hard and play together and that’s what I’m really, really proud about.”
Olentangy returns Collin Hoffmann (senior) and Collin Matthews (junior), who will anchor the pitching staff. Berto Carselle and Cameron and Caden Kaiser will round out the pitching staff.
Cameron Kaiser, a junior, is coming back from an injury and will see time at third base as well. Caden Kaiser, a freshman, will be a regular at first base and in the outfield.
Seniors Christian McFarland (second base), Thomas Beckman (center field) and Nate Monastra (catcher), who is headed to Xavier next season, will provide leadership for the team.
Orange came within a game of tying Olentangy for the OCC-Capital title last season and has some key pieces returning this year.
Jason Schutte (first base), Logan Moss (second base), Colin Shepherd (shortstop), Matthew Poole (third base), Zach Stiteler (catcher) and outfielders Jake Watson, Zach Pfieffer and Nik Strine are all returning letterwinners.
“We thought (our strengths) would be defense, especially (in the) infield,” Pioneers coach Phil Callaghan said. “So far, in scrimmages, it has been pitching and catching. We have good speed.”
Watson, Schutte, Poole, Steele, Shepherd and Strine should all see time on the mound for Orange this season.
Delaware Hayes is coming off a disappointing year last season. But, a lot of young players got experience, which head coach Ryan Montgomery thinks is a key going into this year.
“I feel like we’ve progressed — we’re kind of a year ahead after starting a lot of young guys last year,” he said. “We have experience from that this season, which is really going to be helpful.”
Seniors Noah Watts (shortstop) and Connor King (outfield) should provide leadership for the Pacers.
Juniors Gabe Phillips (second base), Tyler Brown (pitcher/outfield), Mason McGeath (designated hitter) and Mason W. Davis (catcher) and senior Josh Allen (third base) will play key roles.
Ben Yoakum (junior), Mason J. Davis (freshman) and Sam Midura will round out the pitching staff.
Buckeye Valley is looking to improve upon a 13-13 finish and a first round exit from the Division-II tournament last season.
Ben Spaulding (first team All-MOAC) and Leo Wells (MOAC honorable mention) return for the Barons, who finished third in the league last season.
Follow Michael Rich on Twitter @mrichdelgazette.